Not just any chess: Anichess brings power-ups to the classic game

chess-x-animoca-anichess-header
(ESI Illustration) Brian Chan (Left) and Sebastian Kuhnert (Right). Image credit: Chess.com, Animoca

Here are a couple of statements that truly highlight one of the world’s most renowned games: chess is still a very popular sport, despite being thousands of years old. Chess is also a very popular digital game and an esports title with thousands of viewers

The FIDE World Championship had more than 500,000 peak viewers in 2023, which is an impressive number not just for chess, but any ‘real’ esports title.

Chess, being a thousand-year-old game, is not an esports title in the same sense as League of Legends or CS2, but it has become more and more digital in recent years. This has also led to more experimentation in an attempt to adapt chess to modern cultures, the rise of Speed Chess being one example. These innovations are particularly being figureheaded by companies that organise online chess tournaments. Enter chess’ next adaption, Anichess!

Anichess is a competitive PvE (soon PvP) chess title that has traditional figures, as well as spells and abilities similar to other competitive computer games. To unpack this new development in the chess world and its esports potential, Esports Insider sat down with Brian Chan, VP of Operations and Projects at Animoca Brands & Lead at Anichess, and Sebastian Kuhnert, VP of Business Development at Chess.com.

Animoca, a company known for its Web3 projects, is not the first entity that comes to mind when thinking about chess, but Chan noted that the game resonates with the core tenets of Web3 — “fairness, transparency, and accessibility”. 

Given the fact that Chess.com has more than 160m members, Animoca saw an opportunity to work with experts in the field to create something new and unusual, while also connecting Web3 services to the game. 

Kuhnert added that, while chess is a game perfected over centuries, it is dynamic and ever-evolving. Anichess, as a ‘spell-chess’ variant, is just the latest evolution of chess. It can be only described as a version of chess with spells and abilities that provide players with an edge over their opponents. It’s at the same time simple, and very complex. 

“Anichess, as a spell-chess variant, slots seamlessly into this evolving landscape, appealing to a broad spectrum of enthusiasts, including traditional chess players, gamers, and Web3 Enthusiasts,” explained Kuhnert. 

“By integrating the spells players have learned in chess puzzles into PvP mode, Anichess not only provides a new angle but also bridges the gap between learning and competitive play, offering a unique blend of familiarity and innovation.”

Anichess combines Web2 and Web3 technology and is available for any interested players for free. Web3 players do have some benefits, which was to be expected given the fact that Animoca is a company rooted in the space. Chan said that Web3 players benefit by integrating with self-custodial wallet MetaMask, and WalletConnect, a protocol that bridges wallets to dapps (decentralised applications), featuring 113 repositories. In-game, when users win prizes from achievements, they can mint those prizes in the form of NFTs, without gas fees (fees to mint NFTs on the blockchain).

anichess
Anichess adds objectives and power-ups to the classic game of chess. Image credit: Anichess

The goal is not to replace chess but to expand it

At the time of writing, the game is in its early stages, with just the PvE (player versus environment) mode enabled. The PvP mode is set to release soon. Chan and Kuhnert note that the game has around 50,000 daily active users and around 500,000 registered players. The current mode has players solve puzzles and allows them to be familiar with the game before the main version is released later in the year. 

“The PvE mode serves as an introductory experience, offering our community the chance to become acquainted with spell chess while providing us with valuable feedback,” Chan commented. 

“This approach is pivotal as we aim to create a fun and engaging experience for all chess enthusiasts and gamers alike. Importantly, the spells that players learn and master within the chess puzzles will carry over to PvP, allowing for a seamless transition and application of strategies in competitive play.”

With the full release, PvP matches will become available, as well as tournaments and competitions which theoretically enter the game into the esports category. To make any notion of esports possible, the game must be well-balanced and not favour anything other than skill. Kuhnert said that balancing the game is a “formidable task” because spells alter the base of what chess is.

“The goal is not to replace the classic game”, Kuhnert continued, “but to expand upon its foundation through a new and strategically interesting variant.” 

This means that Anichess will get support from Chess.com, especially with the balance. The two partners work on a testing and feedback system that includes a range of players of all skills to see where tweaks are needed. 

Although the game is still to be released, Chess.com and Animoca have large plans to integrate it with existing chess esports tournaments, such as the Champions Chess Tour. This decision shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, given that both brands have established a keen interest in the space over the last few years — Chess.Com with the tour and Animoca with its Veloce partnership.

Kuhnert announced that there are “interesting opportunities for partnership integrations and tournaments” between the CCT and Anichess and that the company wants to explore these opportunities in 2024. New Anichess releases will be “teased throughout the Champions Chess Tour season”, hinted Kuhnert.

As much as Chess is rooted in tradition, twists on the formula might prove to be beneficial to a game that somehow finds its way to the hearts of every generation. Questions remain about whether the Web3 connection will prove to be a positive or a negative aspect of the game. However, as long as Chess.com and the likes of Magnus Carlsen support it, Anichess might just have a shot of being chess, with an esports-inspired twist. 

Ivan Šimić
Ivan comes from Croatia, loves weird simulator games, and is terrible at playing anything else. Spent 5 years writing about tech and esports in Croatia, and is now doing it here.